Chapter XVI
The Winter of the Deep Snow


A winter and a summer, each remarkable in its way, followed the expedition of Brodhead to the upper Allegheny. These seasons were known as "the winter of the deep snow" and "the summer of the big harvest." The soldiers and settlers on the frontier were much indebted to the character of that winter for their immunity from Indian raids. It bound their enemies, but also afflicted them. Hunger and cold are probably preferable, however, to the torch, the rifle and the scalping knife of the savage.

While the incursions to the Seneca country had much to do with checking the savage inroads in the autumn, the border was poorly prepared for defense during the winter. The Indian raids of the spring and summer of 1779 had interfered with sowing and reaping, and there was small surplus of food in the barns and cellars of the settlers. A quarrel in the autumn between Colonel Brodhead and the militia officers of Westmoreland county prevented co-operation on any system for guarding the border. Had the ensuing season been an open one, Westmoreland county would have been devastated. During the 12 months beginning with November, 1779, the influence of the weather on human affairs was strongly manifested.

Both Colonel Brodhead, the regular officer in command of the Western Department, and Archibald Lochry, the county lieutenant of Westmoreland, claimed authority over the two companies of rangers formed in Westmoreland. On the approach of winter, Brodhead ordered these two companies to evacuate Forts Armstrong and Crawford, where they lacked supplies and clothing, and join the regulars at Fort Pitt. Lochry ordered them to Hannastown, that he might post them along the line of the Kiskiminetas river. Much time was wasted by the dispute, but Lochry showed that he had authority to direct the movements of the rangers except in times of aggressive action, and they marched to Hannastown. Then Brodhead, in a fit of pique, refused to provide the rangers with food and ammunition, although they were in the continental service. Lochry had no supplies for them, and he was forced to quarter them, in little parties of four and five, at the houses of the principal settlers. These settlers were willing to feed the men out of their slender stores,. rather than lose their protection.(1)

The winter of 1779-8o began early and continued until March. It was perhaps the severest winter in the history of the United States. In January the harbor of New York was frozen over so solidly that the British drove laden wagons on the ice from the city to Staten Island. In Western Pennsylvania the snow began to fall heavily about the holidays and was followed by exceedingly cold weather for two months.

The snow accumulated at intervals, and by February 1 was four feet deep in the woods and on the mountains. This stopped all the supply trains from the East, and the garrison at Fort Pitt suffered severely for food and clothing. Many of the soldiers were without shoes, and scouting expeditions were out of the question. The officers were without money or credit, and were reduced to extreme straits. Delaware Indians, who visited the fort in the fall, clung to it all winter, and seem to have found whisky easier to procure than bread.(2)

Great was the destruction of animals and birds in the forest. The snow was so deep that they could not get food, and when the spring came the hunters found only the dead bodies of deer, turkeys and smaller game. The Indians suffered sorely in their woodland villages. Especially was the destitution great among the Senecas, whose corn and vegetables had been destroyed by Sullivan and Brodhead. In Western New York scores of Senecas died of starvation and cold. Increased hatred of the Americans was the result, and revenge is very sweet to the Indian.(3)

This hard winter so weakened and distressed the Senecas that when spring came they could not renew their raids on Westmoreland county. Their hunters found it necessary to look after game, and this was exceedingly scarce and poor. The settlers of Westmoreland thus enjoyed an unusual opportunity to plant their fields and gardens, but this immunity was not granted to the inhabitants of the region between the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, under the jurisdiction of Virginia.

That part of the frontier was troubled by the Indians of the Ohio tribes, either Shawnees from the Scioto, or Wyandots and Muncys from the Sandusky. These tribes had not been without plentiful stores of corn, and had passed a comfortable winter. They were supplied with guns, ammunition and clothing by the British at Detroit and were ready to take the warpath as soon as the snow began to melt. The Shawnees were occupied with the growing and aggressive settlements of Kentucky. The bold warriors of the Wyandot or Huron nation fell upon the settlements on the Ohio river and its tributaries.

On a Sunday morning, March 12, 1780, a party of five men and six children were at a sugar camp on Raccoon creek, in the southern end of what is now Beaver county. They had probably been at the camp all night, boiling the maple syrup. At dawn a party of Wyandots, having crept up cautiously, shot and tomahawked the five men and carried away the children, three boys and three girls. This was the first blow of the opening season.(4) Others followed, along the Ohio border. In some instances the Indians only stole horses or slaughtered cattle and hogs.

Toward the end of March a band of Muncy warriors, led by Washnash, a notorious bandit, attacked and captured a flatboat going down the Ohio river to Kentucky. Three men were killed and 21 men, women and children were captured.(5) On April 27 Colonel Brodhead wrote to the president of Pennsylvania: "Between 40 and 50 men, women and children have been killed or taken from what are now called the counties of Yohogania, Monongalia and Ohio, but no damage is yet done in Westmoreland."(6)

Brodhead wrote to the militia officers of the frontier counties to get men ready to aid him in an expedition against the Ohio Indians, but when he began to make his preparations he found that he could not gather enough provisions for a week ahead.(7) Throughout the war the western garrisons were hampered by lack of commissary supplies. The cost of carrying stores over the mountain roads was great, frequently exceeding the original cost of the articles. The pack trains were delayed by many circumstances. There were frequent robberies, sometimes by the men in charge of the transportation. Money was scarce, officials were incompetent, and administration lacked system. A great part of the expense and labor was wasted on whisky, which was considered a necessary feature of the commissary supply.

Westmoreland county raised a few militiamen, who reoccupied posts along the Allegheny and Kiskiminetas rivers. The state was so poor and so slow that for two months the expense was paid by a subscription among the principal settlers. The governing authorities at Philadelphia were, in fact, losing faith in the militia, and even in regulars, as a means of frontier, protection. In spite of these soldiers, permanent and temporary, the Indians made their raids and their slaughters year after year, with trifling losses to themselves. The Supreme Executive Council decided to try another method, and rewards were offered for Indian and tory prisoners and scalps, $1,5oo for a male prisoner and $1,000 for a male scalp. It was hoped that this would stimulate the young men of the frontier to active operations.(8)

Early in May, Brodhead sent Godfrey Lanctot, a Frenchman who spoke several Indian languages, to visit the Ohio tribes and endeavor to persuade them into peace, but his efforts were fruitless. The Shawnees, Wyandots and Muncys would not listen to him.(9)

In May the Senecas, having somewhat recovered from the blow inflicted upon them, came down the Allegheny again in small bands and did considerable damage in Westmoreland. They killed and captured five persons near Ligonier, burned Laughlin's mill, killed two men on Bushy run and killed two on Braddock's old road near Turtle creek.(10) The settlers left their scattered homes and gathered in the stockade forts and blockhouses, but the danger was soon over. The season was a very dry one, and the Allegheny river became so low that even the Indian canoes could not navigate it. The incursions from the north thereupon ceased.

Danger still threatened from the west and Brodhead received a report that an army of British and Indians was assembling on the Sandusky river, in preparation for an attack in force on Fort Pitt. He directed Lieutenant Brady to take a few chosen men, go to Sandusky and find out what was going on there. With five white companions and two Delawares, all dressed and painted like Indians, Brady set out late in May. His journey was a long, arduous and dangerous one. As they approached the Wyandot country the scouts traveled only by night, hiding in the thickest woods by day. One of the Delawares lost heart and returned to Fort Pitt.

Brady and his men drew near the Wyandot capital, near Upper Sandusky, and at night the lieutenant and one Delaware companion waded to a wooded island, directly opposite the Indian town. There they lay in a thicket all the next day, watching the savages enjoying a horse race near the river bank. The town was overcrowded with warriors, and their festivities indicated preparations for the warpath.

At nightfall Brady and his Indian withdrew, rejoined their waiting companions and hurried away toward Fort Pitt. About two miles from Sandusky they surprised and captured two young squaws at an Indian camp, and took them along, thinking they might give valuable information. At the end of six days one of the squaws escaped. The food carried by the scouts was exhausted, and for a week they lived on berries. Game was exceedingly scarce. Brady shot an otter, but its flesh was so rank that even these hungry men could not eat it.

Near the old Indian town of Kuskuskee, at the junction of the Mahoning and Shenango rivers, when their powder was reduced to only two charges, Brady saw a deer and was able to approach within certain shooting distance of it. He pulled the trigger, but his gun flashed in the pan. He quickly stirred up the priming, and was preparing again to fire, when he heard human voices, the voices of Indians. Keeping well concealed, he saw, coming along a trail through the forest, an Indian captain riding a gray horse, followed by six warriors afoot. Riding behind the captain was a captive woman, and the Indian held the woman's child in his arms.

Brady knew the woman as Mrs. Jennie Stoops, of the Chartiers creek settlement, and he did not hesitate for an instant. As the Indian leader came opposite him he took careful aim and shot him through the head. The savage fell dead from his horse, dragging the woman and child with him. Brady dashed forward, shouting for his men to come on. The surprised warriors fired a shot or two and fled into the woods. Brady lifted the woman. She did not know him for a white man. "I am Sam Brady," he said; "follow me." Then he seized the child and hurried away, followed by the woman. He found his men, cowering in the thickets. In their fear and excitement, they had allowed the other Wyandot squaw to escape.

After going a few miles along the trail toward Fort McIntosh, the scouts met a band of settlers from the Char-tiers valley, pursuing the marauders. Mrs. Stoops and her infant were restored unharmed to the husband and father. Brady then returned with a party to the scene of the adventure, where he found and scalped the Wyandot captain. He returned to Fort Pitt, after an absence of 32 days. The one Delaware who had run away had, reported that the whole party had been killed or captured, and so great was the joy of the garrison over Brady's return that he was greeted with volley after volley of musketry as he crossed the river and entered the fort. Colonel Brodhead recommended Brady's promotion, and on July 25 the Supreme Executive Council made him a captain, dating his commission and pay from the preceding September.(11)

1 For Brodhead's quarrels with the frontier officers and for other facts narrated in this chapter, see the numerous letters from the frontier in Pennsylvania Archives, First Merles, vols. vill. and ill. The latter volume contains Brodhead's Letter Book.

2 Albach's Western Annals, p. 311; Magazine of American History, vol. Ill.

3 Magazine of American History, vol. iii., p. 667.

4 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 140, 152, 169.

5 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., p. 159.

6 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., p. 210.

7 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. vtli., pp. 249, 518; Ft. Pitt, pp. 235, 288.

8 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 217, 218, 283.

9 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 301, 661.

10 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 246, 282.

11 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. viii., pp. 878, 769; Colonial Records. vol. xii., p. 436; Winning of the West, vol. iii., p. 57; Hist. Coll. of Pa., p. 106.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 102-108: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

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